Black Friday: how to fine-tune your site search to maximize profit

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the entire holiday season encompassing November and December, is a critical selling day for ecommerce businesses. How critical? According to Adobe, in the 2021 holiday season (November 1–December 31), consumers spent $204.5 billion, an increase of 8.6% YoY.

Black Friday 2022 presents a fantastic opportunity as well. But for businesses, it may still be challenging to hit the mark you want. Given the season’s short length and how two days of online shopping activity can so heavily impact sales numbers, something going wrong can translate to  huge revenue losses.

Snafus on Black Friday can and do happen to brands of all sizes. Even large, seemingly insulated retailers have run up against online outages when faced with overwhelming traffic. According to Digital Commerce 360, in 2021, companies including Office Depot and Walmart ran into trouble. In 2020, it was Petsmart, HP, Wayfair, and many others.

Just as on any other day, on Black Friday this year, your site could be at risk for technical issues as tons of shoppers expect to enjoy a Google- or Amazon-like experience. But more than on any other day, the cost of failing to meet user expectations could be significant.

So as an online retailer, how do you make the most of Black Friday and the rest of the season while avoiding the pitfalls? Here are our tips for 2022 focused on online search and discovery functionality.


Get your ecommerce systems ready

Among online retailers, 65% are not able to meet the demand when a traffic surge hits their website, according to our Online Commerce Trends survey. 

Are you all set for throngs of excited customers to descend on your site? Have you made a list of everything you need to do and checked it twice?

One reason to get ready now: your competitors are also ramping up their holiday-season spending and efforts to acquire and keep customers. So if you’re not prepared for the Black Friday mayhem, they’ll be standing by trying to scoop up your disgruntled shoppers.

One issue: people shopping online (or anywhere, it seems) are super impatient. For instance, take page loading. According to the Retailer Website Performance Report (2021), 87% of online shoppers won’t wait for a slow website to load. Instead, they’ll abandon the site for a competitor’s more-user-friendly experience after a few seconds of frustration. This means every delay on your site’s web pages could take a bite out of your profits.

Another culprit that can cause friction on Black Friday is payment system problems. And did you know that issues with search can also cause downtime? 

On Black Friday 2020, Algolia measured a whopping 66% increase in search traffic compared with the 2019 event. We processed more than 4.5 billion search queries, with peaks reaching 7.2 million requests per minute, which was up 85% from the highest 2019 peaks.

Black Friday is continuing to live up to its reputation as a crazy sales day. So whether you’re handling your own search infrastructure or trusting a search provider to get it right, it pays to put in the effort to get your systems ready for potentially huge load increases.


Be ready for your (many) mobile shoppers

According to Adobe, mobile-phone users accounted for an impressive 43% of online sales during the 2021 holiday season. So from landing pages to payment, your mobile site search experience should not be an afterthought (or downright disaster). Building satisfying, easy-to-navigate mobile experiences, whether in your app or on your mobile site, means putting in the time to road test every little detail, like how your mobile ecommerce search suggestions are displayed. On a phone, you can’t get away with simply displaying all the relevant content as you would on a desktop computer screen; you have to scale it for a small screen size. 

How can you adapt the user experience for your mobile Black Friday shoppers? 

Start by understanding how they typically browse your catalog. Then take that information and create an easy experience that’s perfect on a small screen.

For instance, there are various ways to suggest popular searches, categories, and promoted products on a phone screen, even before the shopper starts tapping in their search request. And for items that people might prefer to see first and then read about if they like the look, such as shoes or items of clothing, you could present search results as photos:

mobile search UX


Keep your inventory up to date

The volume and frequency of transactions during the holiday season can mean millions of updates to your product database every day. Your system needs to stay ahead of these changes with a large-scale, agile system.

Want to create a sense of scarcity around a product by noting that stock is limited? That’s all well and good, but you don’t want to show products that won’t be shipped in time for their buyers’ gift giving. Displaying out-of-stock items also wastes precious screen space on products that aren’t likely to generate sales.

Keep this in mind for wherever you display products, whether as recommendations, as featured items on your home page, or on the search results page.


Anticipate your shoppers’ desires

Your product offerings are one of your greatest assets, so make sure they meet your customers’ needs. One way to do that is with search data analytics. 

Here’s some sample search engine query data in the form of popular searches:

site search analytics

You can use search analytics to discover which items your shoppers are searching for the most ahead of the holiday season, and, most importantly, what they’re searching for but not finding.

Then you can use the insights you uncover to finalize your catalog and determine discounts, set up how results for popular searches will appear, and potentially improve your advertising and SEO strategies.


Start early

Just as you’re preparing for the holiday shopping season in the months leading up to it, your shoppers are likely searching earlier for the best deals by comparing prices, shipping times, and other factors. People will undoubtedly visit your website prior to the holiday season. When they do, make sure they’re happy so that they’ll be back in November and December.


Leverage your own content

You and your shoppers both generate valuable content about the products you sell, including customer reviews, blog posts, usage guides, FAQs, and promotional social media posts. This content can heavily influence your shoppers’ purchasing decisions and position you as an authoritative, reputable online seller.  Show your content  alongside your product pages and also in your search results so that people can easily notice it.

site search product reviews


Help shoppers research items

Shoppers who know exactly which products they want will probably do specific searches to find out if you sell them or similar items. You can lead these product seekers to offers on your site by letting people save their searches and then receive alerts when items are available. Then they’ll have an incentive to come back (or you’ll have a legitimate reason to ping them about something coming in to stock).


The big (Fri)day

Be proactive with your merchandising

Unlike with brick-and-mortar stores, you have the luxury of reorganizing your storefront in one click, or even automatically. Take advantage of that ability! 

Shoppers look for the best deals, so use the discount rate in the ranking of search results. Create an aura of scarcity by ranking products with limited availability first. Do you have a doorbuster offer but still want to preserve your margins? Rank this item first for relevant queries, then add your post-discount margins in the ranking logic. The parameters you can tweak are endless. The important thing is to configure the ranking logic of searches according to what matters to your shoppers (and to you).


Anticipate the unexpected

When Black Friday this year is over, you will likely have missed some trends and discovered hot-selling items you wish you’d promoted better. Or your sight may have crashed. Regardless of your woes, it’s not too late to make vital adjustments for future success.

For a little inspiration, think of UK retailer Gymshark, whose website crashed on a Black Friday several years ago , when it was overrun by a huge surge in traffic. Afterward the company revamped its ecommerce infrastructure, and it’s now a leading sports apparel retailer that gets record-breaking holiday-season results.



Analyze your site’s performance

Through site search, your shoppers speak to you about what they want and need. Leverage that invaluable Black Friday insight. What were folks looking for that you did not provide? Which of their search results converted the most? How did people navigate in your online store? Did they filter their search by a specific brand when they were looking for a TV? All of this type of data can help you improve your offerings and the way you surface them to shoppers.


Turn first-time shoppers into repeat customers

During the holiday season, as with other times throughout the year, you can acquire new shoppers through making unmatched offers and ramping up advertising. Chances are that if your shoppers like the overall experience, they’ll come back. According to many industry studies, every $1 invested in the user experience yields between $2 and $100 in return. So when things calm down, reflect on what went well and what failed, and start planning long-term investments in your user experience.

For Black Friday 2022, pay special attention to how you can improve your site search functionality. The search experience has moved far beyond the search box to include advanced search features like browsing and navigation. Key ecommerce strategies such as making omnichannel improvements and adding personalization are becoming dependent on advanced UI features like voice search and chatbots (learn more). The overall theme: search that works converts.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for Black Friday, but implementing some good advice can take your site a long way when the big day rolls around. 

Want some personalized advice? Request a free search audit. We’ll check out your site and give you recommendations on how to improve your online store for this Black Friday.

About the authorMatthieu Blandineau

Matthieu Blandineau

Sr. Product Marketing Manager

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